As winter descends on Finland, from Helsinki to Espoo curtains are drawn against the freezing temperatures. While it’s easy to indulge the urge to curl up inside with a glass of hot glogg the arrival of autumn and winter also provides a chance to embrace a different way of life and to revel in seasonal pursuits in a snow-covered, Christmas-card perfect landscape: it’s little surprise that, as the country comprises 70% woodland and 10% water, nature takes centre stage in Finland year-round.
Although the north of the country gets most of the winter glory because of its ski scene, the Lake Saimaa region also has a thriving world of winter pursuits for visitors to discover. Lake Saimaa is the fourth largest freshwater lake in Europe and the biggest in Finland; this is a picturesque and very beautiful area, where visitors can experience pockets of traditional Finland, with ice-covered lakes and inlets, and quaint towns nestled among frosty, fairy-tale forests.
Among the activities on offer here are skating routes across the lakes, referred to as ‘tour de skate’. Skating was once a vital method of getting across the frozen landscape when roads became impassable, and today it’s an ideal way to experience the scenery with the help of a professional guide. One company providing organised tours is Iceway, which takes visitors to various scenic bays in the area.
Active travellers can also enjoy cross-country skiing, or if you’d rather let someone else do the hard work, book a snowmobile trip, sit back and take in the stunning winter vistas. Both options are available through the events specialists Salpasafarit.
Other outdoor options in the Lake Saimaa area include ice fishing – the Saimaa Holiday company can provide a guide, equipment and a packed lunch – while for the particularly brave, swimming is on offer. Holiday Resort Järvisydä has ice swimming as part of the winter programme, whereby participants access the water through a hole in the frozen water.
And when it’s finally time to relax, Finland's country retreats have an array of spas and saunas. Unwind in the trickling rock pools and bubbling Jacuzzis at Spa Hotel Rantasipi Imatra, a striking castle-style building, or with a lavender sauna. At the Lappeenranta Spa, guests can enjoy a sauna, waterfall massage and a pretty winter garden pool.
Don’t be deterred by the plunging temperatures and icy environs of the Finnish lakes at this time of year; if anything, the country is even more enchanting.